Growing up, Amped4Life founder and educator Pat Buckley had a crucial question. “Why would I trust a Heavenly Father when the one I had walked out and betrayed me?” When Pat’s dad, John, left the family, Pat was eight. Pat began “…searching for love in all the wrong places”. But Jesus. At the end of himself, Pat discovered everything he’d so desperately longed for was found in God.
Pat sat down with Jeremy Smith to discuss how the Lord has redeemed a broken life which was placed in His hands – sanctifying it and now using Pat’s experiences for good – even those Pat once thought unredeemable – to point others to Him.
“Lord Jesus, I need you. I have nowhere else to go. If you save me, I’ll serve You for the rest of my life.”
Sitting on his bed alone in a rehab facility, Pat Buckley cried out to God. It was August 1995, and as he sat alone in that moment, a few changes of clothes, an old King James Bible and 90 benzodiazepine pills – which are prescribed as sleeping pills and medication to help treat anxiety and narcotic withdrawal – were all he had to his name.
Truthfully, all Pat – then 30 – had known since he was 14 was that he was reliant on taking 40 such pills, as well as intravenously injecting narcotics like morphine, heroin and other opiates up to four times a day just to function and cope with life. And he drank alcohol heavily.
As he sat praying, he sensed the Lord prompting Him to surrender one of the only three things he felt he had left – his pills.
So, in obedience, he tipped the last 90 benzodiazepines he had – a few days worth – down the sink.
Going “cold turkey” isn’t something he’d necessarily advise anyone in similar situations to do – but He obeyed.
“At that moment, I felt it was something specific the Lord was calling me to do in order to surrender every area of my life.
“I said, ‘Jesus, you know if I do this in my own strength, and You don’t come through for me, I’m going to die’”.
More desperate for Jesus than he was for his drugs, Pat tossed the pills down the drain and began to weep from the depths of his soul.
It was then he says his source of life literally changed – he went from utter dependence on that daily mix of drugs, pills and alcohol to utter dependence on Jesus.
“Jeremy, looking back, I can tell you the Lord absolutely did save me – so, I’m a man of my word.
“From that point on, as I have been willing to trust Him with all my soul, all my strength and all my mind, the Lord Jesus has been helping me rebuild my life from the inside out – taking the absolutely broken pieces of who I was into His hands and reshaping them into a vessel to be used for His glory.
“As I share, I’ll intentionally become vulnerable, transparent and real – because even just one person who reads my story might be pointed to Jesus and, with Him, be prompted to start re-writing their own.
“I want people to know that when you’re walking in relationship with Jesus you can never underestimate how He wants to use your life to be a shining beacon for Him.
“No matter where you currently find yourself, when you come to Jesus, God can use everything you’ve been through – every experience, every trauma, every aspect of brokenness – if you give it to Him and allow Him to redeem and sanctify it.”
A large part of the Lord’s redemptive power in Pat’s story is now evident through an initiative called Amped4Life – a name and vision God laid on his heart in 2002 to be proactive in our nation’s fight against drug and alcohol abuse and addiction – and to help New Zealand’s young people to make informed and wise choices in life.
With between 80 and 110 speaking engagements a year – Pat estimates that in nearly two decades, he’s had the opportunity to speak to about 500,000 Kiwis – mostly young people – nationwide.
During a particular 3.5 year stretch between 2009-2012, he spoke to up to 50,000 students annually.
He shares his story through multiple avenues – camps, community groups and in both Christian and public high schools – being led by the Lord as to how he does so when speaking in public schools.
Amped4Life supports those organisations in dealing with substance use and addiction problems through programs for children and teenagers.
It began after a meeting between Pat and his wife Karen and Pat’s twin brother Mike and his wife Susan as they prayed about a way Pat could use his story.
“We all have God-given giftings,” Pat says.
“There was a time when, if you asked me if my history of addiction was something I could use to help point people to Jesus, I would probably have laughed at you. But, as I’ve placed that journey in Jesus’ hands, God has helped me realise its relevance and the impact it can have.
“When you give what you have to Jesus, nothing is wasted.”
Now, nearly 26 years since he came to the Lord, Pat simply marvels at where the Lord has brought him. He wants people to know no-one is beyond the reach – and love – of Jesus.
Pat regularly shares the Amped4Life story at initiatives like Camp Raglan’s school holiday Survival Camp. Interestingly, the camp is owned by Children’s Bible Ministries (CBM), an interdenominational, non-profit, faith-based ministry running in over 30 nations including New Zealand. Pat’s twin brother Mike is CBM’s international director.
As he reflects, Pat – now in his 50s – says Christian camps such as that were likely one of the first places he came to know about Jesus.
His mum, Maureen, sent Pat and Mike and their older brother Ian to Christian camps when they were kids – particularly Christian Youth Camps in Ngāruawāhia and a camp in Ruapehu.
Time at those camps, though, was only a short escape from what became a tumultuous childhood reality.
Pat was born in the United Kingdom in Burnley in Lancashire – his dad, John, emigrated to New Zealand with his family when Pat was two – settling in Auckland.
“Our childhood home was one in which alcohol and my dad’s drinking were very prevalent parts of the early days.” Pat says.
“I think my parents thought shifting geographically would mean a new life and a fresh start, but I’ve shared before that really the only thing that changed was the weather.
“Dad’s drinking and alcohol wrought absolute carnage in my family life. My parents argued about everything – from my Dad’s drinking, to arguments over money, all sorts.”
Pat can see that trauma affected him from a young age. As a ‘mischievous and energetic’ two-year-old, he reached up and dragged a pot of boiling water off the stove.
He suffered third degree burns to his arms and hip and was in Middlemore Hospital for a month while the wounds began to heal. Those burns left him with serious physical scarring, but he says candidly that aspects of his early upbringing left him scarred in other ways.
“I believe adverse childhood experiences can potentially set a child up for developing addictive and destructive behaviours later on in life. I’m sure my experiences were a factor. My world was so uncertain – I was fearful and never knew how my dad would respond to things. At school I was immediately alienated because of the scars on my arms.
“I was picked on and bullied – school for me was an incredibly lonely place… then I had to go home and face all the chaos Dad’s drinking wrought on our family.”
When he was eight, Pat’s mum broke his heart.
“She sat me, Mike and Ian down and told us Dad was leaving. All I heard was rejection – ‘Dad’s leaving, he doesn’t want us and doesn’t love me.’ From that moment that rejection affected me profoundly.”
Despite all the chaos going on at home, when he looks back now he can see God’s hand at work in that his mum sent him and his brothers to the aforementioned Christian camps.
“To an extent as a kid, I recognised the hand of God and His grace towards my family. I said to myself, ‘if God is real, the first place I’ll see Him at work is in my family’. Other people could trick or ‘con’ me, I thought, but never them.
“So, I watched. And the Lord began to restore them as they each gave their lives to Jesus – Mike, then Ian, then my mum.”
Pat was sitting next to Mike on the way to Ruapehu for another camp when Mike began to cry and give his heart to the Lord. Ian came to Christ at an Anglican youth group.
Ian and his wife Kimberley are now pastors at NewHope Community Church in Manukau, Auckland.
“I thought, “that’s all very well and good for them,” Pat recalls, ‘…but how am I supposed to trust a Father I can’t see, when the earthly father I did have betrayed and abandoned me?’”
So, in “all the wrong places”, Pat continued to search for love and acceptance. By 12, he was sneaking out of the house to attend parties where there was excessive alcohol.
“When you drink excessively like I was,” he says, “you’re impaired. When you’re impaired you’re vulnerable, and when you’re vulnerable you do dumb things.”
Pausing, Pat wants to highlight 1 Corinthians 15:33 – “Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” (NIV).
He says he’s always sure to say to anyone who will listen – both children and parents – that carefully choosing the right type of Godly friends means everything.
“Show me your friends and I’ll show you your life – because what they do, you do by default. You become who you hang out with.
“Young people, there’s huge importance in surrounding yourself with strong Godly role models, father-type figures and mentors – good influences who support and validate your ability to make good choices and say no to bad decisions. People who ultimately point you to Jesus.”
In those days though, Pat’s friends were doing anything but that.
The first time he tried drugs, he was with a group of nine of them as someone passed around a joint of marijuana.
“It was a Kodak moment – everything froze. All the others turned around to see how I’d respond. And Jeremy, in that moment, I wasn’t walking with the Lord and I didn’t have the resilience – or even know how – to push back against that peer pressure. So, I took a puff.
“I was acutely aware of the rejection of my dad and so badly wanted to belong and have my friends’ approval that I went over and above to fit in. I thought I’d find the love and acceptance I wanted.
“I know now, of course, all the answers to all the questions I had – and all the needs we all have in life – are found in Jesus.”
By 14, Pat was hanging out with guys five to 10 years older than him – he liked their company because he felt they genuinely cared about him.
They seemed ‘cool’ to him because they rode British motorbikes and just accepted Pat as he was.
“I idolised them,” Pat recalls. And that perceived admiration became a factor when those same older guys offered Pat his first opportunity to inject narcotics.
“Foolishly, again because I so desperately wanted acceptance, I thought ‘I’ll just try it once, it can’t be that bad.’ Jeremy, it absolutely was that bad.”
He went to a doctor for help and was prescribed benzodiazepines. Within six months of the first time he injected himself, he was utterly reliant on the concoction of narcotics and pills which subsequently held him captive for the next 16 years.
“Many of us have loved ones who aren’t walking with the Lord who we’re praying will come to know Jesus. Or, we know someone who does. Let’s persevere in our prayers for those people in our lives. Sometimes we, myself included, start praying, but stop if we don’t think we’re seeing things happen in a certain timeframe – but don’t ever stop praying.”
He offers that encouragement because against the backdrop of those first experiences with drugs, and other destructive life choices he was making, he’d catch glimpses of something.
Since his mum came to Jesus – as 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says – she’d been “praying without ceasing” for her son.
She did so for many years, and it was only later looking back that Pat was made aware that over time she’d asked hundreds of other people to join her in praying for him.
“She was an absolute prayer warrior. I’d come home from whatever party I was at and hear her praying for me in the other room. Or, when I was out, she’d go into my room and leave Scripture verses in there that I’d find later.
“She couldn’t be with me in those places of danger and vulnerability I was putting myself in, so she got creative and made sure she changed the atmosphere around me when I was at home.”
He ultimately credits firstly Jesus and, secondly, the prayers of his mum and those others as the major reasons he’s alive. Because the reality is, as we speak, nearly 70 friends he knew throughout his 16-year journey of addiction have died.
Pat has flatlined, or clinically died, three times himself – and survived a car crash.
As those prayers for him continued, Pat began to have moments of longing to connect with God – and he’s under no illusions that there were times God saved his life.
“I’d go up Stockade Hill in Howick, still addicted, but desperate for God. Sitting on a park bench, I’d pour out my heart to Him – sometimes crying for hours.”
The car crash he survived happened when his car flipped end on end seven times before hitting a lamp post. He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and had been drinking for the ”whole day” before getting behind the wheel.
The car was a write-off and a friend following behind him was stunned Pat was alive when he got out.
On another occasion, he rode his motorbike while so impaired that he crashed it 13 times on a 5km stretch of road.
“Through all of those low point experiences, as my mum and family were praying, I certainly sensed God’s hedge of protection around me constantly.
“She was my absolute hero and my best friend,” Pat says of his mum – who passed away in Middlemore Hospital in August 2016 after a brief illness.
The catalyst for the “beginning of the end” of his journey of addiction came after he overdosed for the third time in a month.
In a moment in which he had never been more aware of his own mortality, he says the Lord gently said to him, ‘Pat, I love you son, but unless you surrender your life to Jesus you will be dead in three weeks’.
“I suddenly realised I was playing a game of Russian Roulette that I was certain to lose.”
So, he went into a Christian rehab facility in Whakatane – telling only his mum and his brothers he was going.
“Proverbs 18:24 tells us, “…there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (NIV),” he says of the moment he surrendered to Jesus while there.
“Jeremy, Jesus became the most real person in my world. Truthfully, I needed Him to be. To begin to walk out of my past, I desperately needed a real, genuine, authentic encounter and relationship with Jesus.”
One of the early steps on that journey, was to enrol at Tauranga’s Faith Bible College – where he studied for nearly five years and is now a board member.
As part of his involvement at Faith, Pat undertook volunteer work at nearby schools – work which ultimately saw him become a chaplain at Tauranga Boys’ College.
As he considers Amped4life, his heart is that the next generation would encounter Jesus as he did.
“Ephesians 4:15 contains the phrase, “…speaking the truth in love…” That’s simply the calling I believe God has for me with Amped4Life – I leave the rest to Him.”
While Pat can’t specifically mention Christ when speaking in public schools, Biblical themes like forgiveness, honouring your parents, restoring relationships and the importance of good choices are prevalent.
“My heart is that when people hear the Amped4Life message they see someone who loves them and speaks truth into their hearts,” Pat says.
“So, what does it mean to live the authentic Christian life?” I ask. For Pat, to a large degree, that looks like mentorship.
“People so desperately need to see examples of the genuine, authentic Christian life. Surround yourself with Godly people – maybe a father, another man, or youth pastor – someone who can journey with you, giving you their time and modelling and leading by example – and find people in your life you can do the same for.
“Matthew 16:24 says, “…whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (NIV). To truly connect with people, there are times we have to lay down our own desires and agendas and walk a mile, or even 10 miles, in their shoes and show people we love them.
“The Father’s love for us cost Him everything – our love for others should cost our time, our talent, our ‘treasure’ and those things we hold dear. If it doesn’t cost you much, it’s not love.
“There’s so many voices and influences in young people’s lives today telling them ‘…this is where you’ll find what you’re looking for…’ And their needs are so complex, but the answers are only found in Jesus.
“What saddens me is if we don’t model a real, genuine, authentic and living faith to this next generation we’ll potentially lose them to the other things vying for their attention, and they’ll fall for lies which ultimately leave them broken and devastated.
“My heart’s desire is that the body of Christ continues to demonstrate a living and active faith which points the next generation to Jesus.”
While he thinks God may not reveal the full impact of the Amped4Life journey to him before he sees Jesus in Heaven – he does get glimpses of the difference his story is making – and they’re powerful.
“A young man once approached me to tell me that 15 years prior he’d heard me share my story at Tauranga Boys’ College,” Pat relays.
“He said he didn’t think he was even listening at the time. In later life he had spent seven years in prison. He told me that as he lay on his bunk ‘…everything you said came flooding back into my memory’.
“He told me he began to realise in that moment that he needed to give his life to Christ and be restored. He said he wanted to be there for his wife and kids and that my story pointed him to the Lord, who had changed his world.”
Stories like that impact Pat because Jesus certainly changed his.
Pat and his wife Karen live in Tauranga. They married in 2002 – the same year Amped4Life was established. Pat is stepdad to Karen’s three children – Josh, 29, Chloe, 28 and Bianca, 24, and biological dad to Seth, 17, and Ella, 16.
He says fatherhood and family is one of the greatest gifts – and biggest learning curves – God has entrusted him with.
“Karen is an amazing, Godly woman and each of the kids are a blessing from God.
“When Josh, Chloe and Bianca came into my life, I knew my calling was to always be there for them. I knew the pain of not having a father – but I didn’t have an example of a good earthly father.
“So, I had to prayerfully learn before God what it meant to be one. I failed many times, but I learned to have the humility to go to my kids, apologise and say, ‘I’m so sorry, I got it wrong, please forgive me’. My kids saw that I’m human and I make mistakes.”
That, he says, is authentic parenting.
“More than anything materially, we absolutely cherish family memories and experiences together,” Pat says – highlighting a recent “most incredible” day spent at a friend’s homestead on Motiti Island as a perfect example. The family of a young man he has been mentoring own the property and invited them to stay.
On the note of family too, there’s a story of forgiveness Pat wants to share. He says the Lord began to impress upon him the importance of forgiving a particular person – his dad.
“And so, I went to visit him and simply said, “…Dad, I forgive you…”
“Why would you son?” was the reply. “I was able to tell Him it was because the Lord was asking me to and say, ‘…because I choose to Dad.’”
And the Lord was indeed at work.
In later life, Pat’s mum and dad had separated but slowly, over the years, they became friends again because his mum would regularly visit his dad in the rest home he lived in towards the end of his life.
“She led my dad to the Lord and we began to see small incremental changes in him. A short time later, he was diagnosed with tongue cancer. I was overseas when I received news he’d gone to be with the Lord.
“I know he’s with Jesus, he’s restored and he’s the man he was supposed to be – one day I will see Him again.”
As our chat draws to a close, Pat adds that there should be a degree of urgency with which we seek opportunities to authentically share our faith in Jesus with others.
He’s been a St John New Zealand volunteer ambulance officer for nearly 15 years – a role which has reinforced that importance to him in a powerful way.
He got into the role with a desire to, as Galatians 5:13 says, “serve others in love” (NIV).
“There are times when I am most definitely confronted with a sense of our own mortality and that serves to remind me of how important it is that, as Christians, we make the time we have count for Jesus and tell others about Him.”
He’s motivated too, to be a good steward.
“One day, Jesus will ask me, “…what did you do with what I gave you, son?’ If my life is solely about me, and not where Jesus would have me be, I’ve missed the boat.”
And his final thought.
“Every day, I’m reminded of where He has brought me from. My prayer is, ‘…Lord, never let me forget the grace You show me, lest I treat it like a common thing.”
- What a powerful story. Let’s pray for the work Pat and his team do through Amped4Life. For more information, visit https://amped4life.net.nz, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Share this article
By Jeremy Smith
About the author
Jeremy Smith is editor of, and one of the writers for, Authentic Magazine.
Want more articles like this?
Read More Interesting articles